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Why Christianity Failed to Spread in the Sub-Continent Despite 200 Years of British Rule

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MG is a senior service officer and now a senior corporate advisor. A prolific writer with varied interests and hobbies



The British ruled India for close to 200 years. Generally, it is accepted that the Battle of Plessey (1757) under Robert Clive which the British won, marks the start of British rule. By a policy of divide and rule, the British became the paramount power in the subcontinent. This continued till 1947 when the British had to leave India very reluctantly. The retreat from the subcontinent was brought about by Adolf Hitler who severely weakened England that it just could not hold on to its colonies. In short, the victory in the Second World War was a Pyrrhic victory.

British Rule and Missionaries

During the almost 200 years of British rule, a lot of good took place as the British laid the framework of a modern nation. This also fuelled a nationalism that went beyond caste and religious lines. Gandhi and Bose successfully channelized this nationalism as well as instituted a sense of pride in the culture of the subcontinent which was dominated by a vast Hindu population and minority Muslim believers.

The British were the paramount power also allowed Christian missionaries to come to India. Their purpose was to civilize the people of the sub-continent and convert them to Christianity. A lot of impetus was given by the Pope who made unlimited funds available for the missionaries to facilitate the conversion of the Hindus and Muslims to Christianity.

The Role of the Missionaries

The missionaries spread out in the hinterland of India. They concentrated on tribal areas and areas where poor Hindus and Muslims were residents. These people were given ample gifts and told that these were sent by Jesus Christ and as such, they should convert to Christianity. This inducement by the church marked the hallmark of the thrust under guidance from Rome to convert as many as possible to the Christian faith. I will add that the main thrust was from the Catholics from Rome and in comparison, the Protestants were not that zealous in their attempt to convert Indians to Christianity.

Failure of the Missionaries

Despite unlimited funds and food aid, the missionaries made little headway in the subcontinent. They did do some good also, as they set up schools and hospitals, but the overall framework was to spread the gospel. In this, they felt anything including inducements was justified. For the missionaries, the end justified the means. But despite a vigorous thrust for 2 centuries, the missionaries could barely convert 2% of the population to the Christian faith. The reason is that Christianity came face to face with Muslim and Hindu religion and the missionaries just could not, despite all the inducements counter the appeal of Hinduism and to a lesser extent Islam.

Reasons for Failure

One of the reasons which I think stands out now is that all the missionaries were whites and these appeared to the people as Alien. The Christian god Jesus was thus associated with the white race and most people in the subcontinent were averse to being ruled by whites. Another reason was that despite the concerted attack on Hindu ideals and philosophy the people felt that Christianity as a religion lacked the deep spiritualism of the Hindu faith. This was a major reason as despite preaching the gospel along with inducements, the locals never converted to Christianity. There were cases of missionaries being attacked and many were killed. Many people felt that if the Church was sincere, why it was not advocating freedom from British rule.

This was a major flaw and like in America where the church condoned and tacitly supported slavery, the church in India also never advocated an end to British rule. With the protection of the state they penetrated deep into India but the result was an abysmal failure.

Last Word

One other reason for the failure of Christianity is that the rulers were Protestants and they looked at the actions of the missionaries with askance. Most Protestants were keen to revive Indian culture and many studied Hindu philosophy, but Protestants made no concerted attempt to convert the local people to Christianity.

The failure of the Church and Catholic faith to convert Hindus and Muslims to Christianity will remain a discussion point. It will not be wrong to say that Christianity, in particular, the Catholic faith could not compete with the inherent spiritualism of the Hindu faith. India is the only area in the world where despite government support the attempt to Christianize failed. In contrast in ALL other places wherever the missionaries traveled like Africa, South America and Philippines they succeeded in spreading the gospel but not in the sub-continent.



MG Singh (author) from UAE on March 06, 2021:

Roberts, thanks for commenting.

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Robert Sacchi on March 06, 2021:

MG Singh emge thank you for your answer.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on March 06, 2021:

DW Davis, it's a pleasure to read your comment. You have a fine understanding of the subject.

DW Davis from Eastern NC on March 06, 2021:

In India, Christianity, a relatively new faith compared to Hinduism, could not shake the deep-seated foundations of the older faith. In the other areas of the world where missionaries succeeded, there was usually no unifying faith among the population as they encountered in India.

Thank you for an excellent and informative article.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on December 29, 2019:

Robert Sacchi,

Protestants are better accepted in India than Catholics. There is no bar on preaching but the Hindu faith is too deeply entrenched to be shaken. However, in Punjab, there are quite a few protestants emerging. You can say they have some success there as the Protestants also accept the Sikh faith.

Robert Sacchi on December 29, 2019:

Has there been noticeable recent efforts by Protestants to evangelize in India?

MG Singh emge from Singapore on December 28, 2019:

Thank you Robert for commenting

Robert Sacchi on December 28, 2019:

Thank you for the analysis. It explains much.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on May 19, 2014:

Thank you Jackie for an illuminating comment

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on May 19, 2014:

Christians have been far from perfect. Jesus was born a Jew which would have made him a dark man but there is no races in the spirit form according to the Christian belief so it is too bad the missionaries could not have gotten this across. Many Christians even today can be very prejudice not considering the race their savior was born into to fulfill prophesy. Interesting history; thank you for sharing this.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on May 18, 2014:

Dear Au Fait, so nice of you to have commented

C E Clark from North Texas on May 18, 2014:

Very interesting analysis. I will have to agree with ericdierker; everything coalesced to bring about what was meant to be. Appreciate your insight.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on April 14, 2014:

Thank you Hackslap for commenting. Its always a pleasure to read an intelligent comment

Harry from Sydney, Australia on April 14, 2014:

Quite an interesting hub mate.. .. makes a lot of sense of why some of the backward and less aware sections of the Indian diaspora are still a bit anti-Christian ..

MG Singh (author) from UAE on April 13, 2014:

Thank you Romeos Quill

Romeos Quill from Lincolnshire, England on April 13, 2014:

Interesting Hub article MG Singh.You may find the following free book useful, which cuts through all of the garbage. It certainly helped me clarify a few important matters:-



MG Singh (author) from UAE on April 13, 2014:

Thank you Audrey, I am glad you find the hub makes sense

Audrey Howitt from California on April 13, 2014:

Such an interesting hub. I like your viewpoint here and it makes sense to me--

MG Singh (author) from UAE on March 15, 2014:

Thank you suzettenaples for a very relavent comment

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on March 11, 2014:

I have to agree with your analysis of why Christianity did not take hold in India. There is no 'right' or 'one and only religious belief.' I don't blame the Indians for staying with Hinduism etc. when the Christian God is always portrayed as a white man and very foreign to them. There is nothing wrong with the Hindu or Sikh religions or spiritualism. I don't know much about these two beliefs, but I admire the Indians for maintaining what is true to them. Interesting and thought provoking hub.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on February 04, 2014:

Thank you Rudra for appreciating and commenting

Rudra on February 04, 2014:

Interesting and well written

MG Singh (author) from UAE on January 29, 2014:

Thank you Deborah-Diane for commenting and giving your opinion

Deborah-Diane from Orange County, California on January 29, 2014:

I believe that the world will be a better place when we make a genuine effort to accept and respect people of other faiths. This was a very interesting article!

MG Singh (author) from UAE on January 27, 2014:

Thank you DDE

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 27, 2014:

Informative and interesting on this topic with many facts to think about.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on January 27, 2014:

Thank you Jainismus, but the fact remains that the missionaries could not convert India like they did in Africa and Philippines

Mahaveer Sanglikar from Pune, India on January 25, 2014:

Nice analysis, thank you for writing this.

One another thing I observed that the missionaries tried to change the dress code, language and local culture of the converted people. This automatically created a rift between them and the masses. But now the missionaries have changed their style and they do not like to do this mistake. That is why now it is not possible to identify whether a person is Christian or not just by knowing his name, which was possible in case of people converted in older times. In case of the people who were converted in older days, and had got European type names and surnames, now are using Indian first names for new generations.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on January 24, 2014:

Thank you Harish. So nice of you to have commented. Its a real pleasure

Harish Mamgain from New Delhi , India on January 24, 2014:

MG Singh, you have brilliantly elaborated on various reasons behind less acceptance of Christianity by the populace of the sub-continent. The one more important factor is to do with the different eating habits that persist to this day. It is well known that this resulted in a few rebellions in the masses and ultimately to the outbreak of great mutiny of 1857. Another reason is that the Britishers never regarded the sub-continent as their home but always remained as guests or outsiders. Had they assimilated themselves in the masses, they would have penetrated deep roots of Christianity into the sub-continent. On this front, Islam outsmarted them and succeeded in spreading it's wings to a great extent. You have raised an interesting subject and sometimes I had also been thinking along these lines. Thank you for bringing it forth through this fine piece.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on January 22, 2014:

Thank you Eric for commenting

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 22, 2014:

Great article. I think you did a great job pointing out that it was/is a whole lot of factors. But for me, I look at it and think, it is how it is supposed to be.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on January 21, 2014:

Thank you ologsinquito for commenting. It was nice of you

ologsinquito from USA on January 21, 2014:

That's a very interesting perspective on the perception of India's reluctance to convert to Christianity. I've never been to India, so it would be really hard for me to comment on the atmosphere over there and the general perception of Christianity.

From my perspective here, I can see that a minority did convert. I've met some very devout Indian Catholics.

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